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$225 MILLION STILL OWED IN CHILD SUPPORT

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The Office of Recovery Services collected almost $60 million in owed child support this past fiscal year. But officials estimate a whopping $225 million is still owed to the state and custodial parents.

That's just in the 97,000 cases that go through the ORS because the custodial parent receives welfare or Medicaid or because the ORS has been asked to help.President Clinton has promised to make child-support collection a big part of his welfare reform proposal. And the Internal Revenue Service - perhaps the most feared U.S. agency - is being pressed into service to help.

Utah is one of 12 states taking part in a pilot project that uses the IRS to collect child-support payments that are seriously delinquent.

It's not the first time the IRS has been involved in the collections, said Kathie Kidd, program specialist in Utah's Bureau of Child Support Services. In the past, ORS staffers could take a case, if they'd exhausted all other collection methods, and go through the regional child-support enforcement office to get it certified for IRS intervention. The criteria for such certification were strict.

The pilot project bypasses the regional office and waives the $122.50 fee usually charged by the IRS for collection. Of 70 cases submitted to the IRS by Utah officials, 46 are included in the project.

The ORS has about 39,000 cases where support is being paid but there are many in serious arrears, as well as thousands where both current and past support are due.

"Not all of these would be eligible for (IRS intervention)," Kidd said. "A lot of these . . . are unemployed or maybe disabled. There are a lot of different reasons for arrears. It's not always someone hiding it."

"My prediction is we will ultimately have such a federalized system unless states are able to improve collection on the state level," said child advocate Roz McGee, of Utah Children.

"But it sounds like an unfortunate model because they are only using cases that are problem cases. For people who wish to avoid supporting their children, they will go to great lengths to do so in the same way that people who wish to avoid paying taxes for which they may be liable can avoid doing so. I'm not sure this particular test will be very instructive."

McGee said that Utahns usually don't like the federal government telling it how to run programs. But members of the Utah Legislature have not been very serious about tackling child-support enforcement. She was disappointed that a proposal to use automobile licensing to enforce payment of child support hasn't been popular with lawmakers.

"I would hope that members of the Legislature would take a serious look at this draft bill.

"If you use the privileges of the state, you need to be prepared to support the child you have brought into this world."